WILMINGTON, Mass. The one thing Milan Lucic cant do in the face of greater NHL scrutiny is change the way he plays the game.
Milan Lucic forcibly sat out his first game of the season Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens after he was suspended by the league for a boarding call on Philadelphia Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo. The play itself appeared to be boarding to the naked eye and was tagged with a five-minute major and game misconduct at the time, and Brendan Shanahan tacked on a game for good measure.
Shanahan mentioned Lucics prior history of warnings and fines for a handful of previous incidents leading up to the suspension, and theres little doubt his demolition derby hit on Ryan Miller played into the most recent penalty. The one-game vacation actually wasnt the worst thing in the world to give the left winger a breather in the middle of a season that will be getting very busy for the Bruins during the month of January.
Lucic even joked that the boarding hit got him a key role as a bomb-tossing villain in the HBO 247: Road to the Winter Classic with Wayne Simmonds chasing after like a faux tough guy after the refs stepped in between the two players.
Got my name on HBO, so I guess you get on that show any way you can, right? said a smiling Lucic, who watched the new episode on Wednesday night.
But its not something Lucic wants to get used to, or experience more of in growing increments. Its not something he wants to see, its not something that fans want to see and its certainly not a softness that the Bs coaching staff wants to watch creep into Lucics power-packed game.
Were going to make sure we let him know that we dont want him to change his style, said Claude Julien. The suspension was because of different things. One was a playoff thing that had nothing do with a hit, and the other was a collision with Miller that maybe when they looked back on it they felt like they should have called him for that. Maybe if it had it would have diminished this last suspension, but were just going to ask him to go out and play.
Were a physical team and we dont want that to creep out of our game. The NHL doesnt want that element to creep out of that game either. We want to manage it the best way we can, but you certainly dont want players playing afraid to finish off their checks.
On the other hand, Lucic cant turn his back from the player that leads the Bruins with 73 registered hits this season either. The power forward has led the Bruins over the past four years with 751 registered hits while averaging 188 body checks per season over that four season span that includes an injury-plagued season two years ago.
Thats a ton of demolition derby style hockey hits without any suspensions or egregious acts to injure fellow players, so theres plenty of evidence that Lucic is doing things the right way.
Some players feed on the physicality and emotion between the whistles, and Lucic is one of those emotionally nourished players. The power forwards worst spells in the NHL have come when he drifts away from the body checks and unrelenting intimidation his size and strength combo would suggest.
So altering his game after a standout four-year career thats seen him collect a 30-goal season, a Stanley Cup and a reputation as one of the most fearsome players in the NHL isnt going to happen.
I cant change my game, said Lucic. I play with a lot of emotion and I do everything I can to keep it safe and follow the guidelines of the new hitting protocol. Obviously a big part of my game is being physical and creating emotion, and I cant lose that part of my game. Thats for sure.
One could imagine what would happen if Lucic suddenly became gun shy or hesitant when it come to punishing defensemen with merciless forechecks. Or if Lucic suddenly avoided standing up for teammates such as the Rinaldo case when he sped to Nathan Hortons defense after two Flyers players -- including Rinaldo -- attempted a Malachi crunch on Lucics linemate.
Lucic is able to do all of these things on the edge of good, honest hockey without continually going over the edge, and that was the point he most clearly tried to get across to Shanahan during their phone conversation.
Obviously you dont want to hear from Shanahan again and I was upset that I had to go through that whole process. Its not a guy you want to talk to too much for those reasons, said Lucic. But I wanted to make clear that I understand what hes trying to do and I also understand that Im doing everything I can to make dangerous hits. Thats what Im trying to do in that conversation.
Lucic has five seasons, 300 plus games and more than 800 hits in a respect hockey career without any previous regular season suspensions to vouch for the way he plays the game. So there is ample evidence the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder shouldnt change a thing despite the NHL microscope he now finds himself under following his first instance being Shanabanned.